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Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Field Hospital: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975

The Field Hospital

One morning I was faced with an acute problem, 'prolapsed haemorrhoids'. Once the initial panic had subsided I made my way to the nearest road and thumbed a lift from a passing jeep which appropriately belonged to the Red Cross. I asked the driver to take me straight to the military field hospital. On arriving there, as I was not a stretcher case, I was told to visit the out patients at the other end of the airfield. As I could hardly walk they provided an ambulance. At the out patients they asked for a dollar before I could see the doctor. This was a dollar in the new military Scrip that was meant to combat the black market but which in fact created another one. I didn't have any so I had to go around trying to sell some of my piastres amongst the other out patients. The doctor then said I had to be admitted to the hospital but as there was no more transport I had to hobble back down to the other end of the airfield. Once admitted my dollar was returned to me.

I spent a not unpleasant week there. The patient in the next bed had a gaping shrapnel wound in his leg. The most seriously wounded were flown straight out to Japan or the Philippines.

They had female nurses who came round and massaged our backs every evening. Christmas Eve a medic produced a bottle of bourbon. I dislike bourbon and for that matter rye whiskey also. Christmas day John came round with a flask of brandy which helped. We also had a visit from Vietnamese school girls who gave each of their wounded allies a Vietnamese doll in the traditional Ao Dai. I didn't try to disillusion the young girl in front of me. All very sweet. Better than the woman from one of the agencies that provided succour to the wounded trying to give me some razor blades.

I always had a problem with my beard with Americans. They associated beards with hippies. This was the 1960,s; I with outdoor living. We had all worn them in the out islands in the Bahamas. The Royal Navy was not exactly hippy, although in the British army only pioneer sergeants could wear them.

We were covered by all sorts of medical insurance, Blue Cross, Blue Shield. etc. and still being young were not unduly worried about health. Anyway there was always a cold beer or a pipe of tobacco which cured most things. Being scared to death by real danger also helped.

An American fellow I worked with had explained it to me when I arrived. When the mortars come in you're on the ground trying to dig a hole with your hands. In the morning you’re glad to be alive without a care in the world.

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